Headless Body of One of America’s 1st Politicians … and slave owners

An archaeologist examines the funeral, while wearing a suit that will minimize contamination to the historic site.

(Jamestown Rediscovery)

Archaeologists digging in a 400-year-old church in Jamestown, Virginia, a headless body that may be that of Sir George Yeardley, one of the first politicians and slave owners in the American colonies.

Few people have heard of Yeardley, but he has played an important role in american history. The Jamestown governor oversaw the House of Burgesses, the first elective governing body in the English colonies.

Scientists are still not sure whether the headless body is Yeardley ‘ s, but shortly after the uncovering of the skeleton, they made another find that may help answer that question. They discovered that there are a handful of the teeth, 10 in all, on Sunday (July 22) that fit in a skull previously excavated in the church. [ Photos: New Settlers In Jamestown Identified ]

If the DNA of the teeth and the skull corresponds with that of Yeardley’s living descendants, scientists will be able to determine Yeardley the body. By analyzing the skull of the contours and tooth plaque, researchers may also be able to re-create his face and determine what types of food he ate, The Washington Post reported .

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“We have a lot of world-renowned experts working with us, Mary Anna Hartley, a senior archaeologist with Jamestown Rediscovery of the Foundation, told The Washington Post. “And I wanted to make sure that there is something for them to investigate.”

For example, Turi King, a geneticist and an archaeologist at the University of Leicester in England, who has helped in the identification of the remains of King Richard III after they were discovered under a car park in 2012, is working with the Jamestown team.

“We have been working under the so-called clean conditions [in the church],” King told Live Science. “One of the main things that we now worry about is that the site with the DNA of one of us. Now, if I take the DNA of an individual, we want to make sure that it belongs to the individual and not to me or any other archaeologist.”

Jamestown rediscovered

The church of the excavation is part of a project that is carried out by the Jamestown Rediscovery of the Foundation, in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution, to learn more about Jamestown , the first successful permanent English settlement in the American colonies. The community was founded in 1607 and was originally called “James Cittie,” according to the Jamestown Rediscovery of the Foundation .

Yeardley not Jamestown until 1610 (he left London in June 1609, but a hurricane blew his ship off course to Bermuda). He was Jamestown governor, in 1616, at the age of 29. Later he was knighted by King James I in Britain, and he then returned to Jamestown with the instructions of the Virginia Company, which controlled the colony, to create “a commendable form of government . . . [for] the people there,” according to historical documents, The Washington Post reported.

The plan worked. In June, 1619, a group of 30 men met in the church the archaeologists are now excavating.

In that same year, America was the first group of enslaved Africans. The slaves, coming from Angola in west central Africa, were on a Spanish ship on the way to Vera Cruz, Mexico, to two English privateer vessels attacked and lasted for up to 60 of the Africans Point Comfort, in what is now Hampton, Virginia, says David Givens, director of archaeology at Jamestown Rediscovery. Yeardley purchased eight of the people, Givens told Live Science.

With the 400-year anniversary of both these events approaching, archaeologists hope to learn more about Yeardley, to begin with the identification of his body, the researchers said. Although the DNA work has yet to come, the skeleton has several clues: It comes from a robust man in his late 30s or early 40s, that would correspond with Yeardley, who died at the age of 40, in 1627, the archaeologists told The Washington Post.

In addition, the skeleton, the hands to the sides — not crossed over the pelvis indicates that this burial was an important, probably was constructed so that people could see that the body for final burial, said Hartley. And in the early 1900s, they found a grave plate engraved with the chivalric symbols in the church. Given the fact that Yeardley was a knight, it is possible this limestone slab belonged to him, said Hartley.

She also noted that the burial is located in the front of the church, the altar, “a beautiful, excellent place to be buried,” said Hartley.

The soil and artifacts at the funeral match the correct time period, Givens added. The team also plans to radiocarbon date the bones, and do isotopic testing (an isotope is a variation of an element that has a different number of neutrons in the nucleus) on the remains, so they can see whether or not the individual drank water from England as a youth, he said.

Original article on Live Science .

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